Sometimes the past is best left forgotten, especially if you’re a Hollywood producer. Why else would we have two movies based on huge franchises pull a Days of Future Past on themselves by wiping out every movie bar the good ones within a year of each other? The first to do that, of course, was Halloween, a sequel to the original movie – which was also a huge influence on, amongst many other movies, James Cameron for The Terminator.
Which brings me to Terminator: Dark Fate and the flagging franchise it’s trying to save. If you are precious about the first two James Cameron-helmed movies, like me, then Dark Fate promises to be both an uncomfortable watch (especially its opening minutes which I won’t spoil, but I had an Alien 3 shaped rage for at least 15 minutes), and an oddly enjoyable one. We are told by a grizzled Sarah Connor (the returning Linda Hamilton), that the events of T2 actually meant something (take that Rise of the Machines), and that she and John did avert the Skynet-sponsored apocalypse. Arnie’s presence does need some explanation, considering the last time we saw him in this timeline was submerging himself in fucking lava – it is explained, as is his motivation for returning. It works, and doesn’t push Arnie’s limited talents too far in the process, allowing Hamilton to carry the weight of the returning cast.
Both Hamilton and Arnie are fantastic, their presence gives Dark Fate a sense of continuity within the universe but they also don’t feel shoe-horned in either. In fact, you might feel yourself getting a little bored when Hamilton isn’t onscreen. If Dark Fate has a Force Awakens vibe, and it does, then Sarah rocks up like this universe’s Han Solo, giant gun at the ready to shoot first. If Sarah Connor was the only part of the movie that worked then I would be happy, yet Dark Fate makes a solid case for its existence beyond Sarah Connor and her great hair.
This comes mostly from lead human Dani (Natalia Reyes) the target of a new sort-of terminator sent by the new world ending A.I. named Legion; (I know, subtle, right?) and augmented human from the future, Grace, played by Mackenzie Davis – just don’t call her a terminator. It would be easy to label Grace as a mixture between the original terminator and Kyle Reese, and that is her function, but she is far too compelling an actor to allow her character to be pigeon-holed in such away. Dani, who is functionally in the Sarah Connor role, convinces as a young woman who is slowly learning that she has the will to fight and survive, with a warmth and chemistry with the rest of the cast that gives her a feeling of grounding in the chaotic plot.
I honestly didn’t care about the girl power protests from some fans. Yes, there are more women this time, a whole three, but gender doesn’t matter, and has never mattered in the Terminator franchise. Sarah Connor is proof of that. In order to survive, to save the world, you have to choose to fight, and have giant biceps in the process; neither of which are gender-exclusive traits.
Obviously, Dark Fate is the third best Terminator movie. Nothing can touch the first two, and its in comparision to those movies where it falls down. For a franchise that helped pionner scfi-action cinema, the action scenes themselves weren’t up to much. There were some good sequences – the border patrol fight was a highlight – but there was far too much editing for the hand to hand, and both a helicopter and a plane set piece were so dark that it must have been shot by The Long Night cinematographer. Plot-wise, Dark Fate is the best Terminator movie that could have been produced in 2019. Sadly, from a franchise that pioneered cinematic technology, the set pieces look like they could have been copy-pasted from any other blockbuster.
Dark Fate is a solid movie – it may even be one of the better blockbusters of the year. The secret to its success is that – unlike the three previous sequels that have stopped from trying to wipe each other out by being screwed by this movie – it feels like an actual Terminator movie, Sarah Connor and all.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Hollywood Reporter)